Rangers improve with Lee but aren’t the AL favorites

Even more quickly than the Yankees went from the observation deck to the probable landing spot for Cliff Lee, the Rangers swooped in and claimed the ace as their own Friday afternoon.

To get Lee, a pending free agent, and reliever Mark Lowe, the Rangers had to part with a talented quartet of future talent. Seattle acquired first baseman Justin Smoak, pitcher Blake Beavan, reliever Josh Lueke and second baseman/outfielder Matt Lawson.

Cliff Lee will bolster a Texas rotation that is ranked toward the bottom of the league.
Cliff Lee will bolster a Texas rotation that is ranked toward the bottom of the league.

The addition of Lee improves the Rangers, but, ultimately, it doesn’t knock the Yankees off their perch atop the American League. The new balance of power in the AL:

1. Yankees. As disappointed as New York might be about being this close to acquiring Lee, the solace is that it didn’t need him. A reunited Lee-CC Sabathia duo would have been the best 1-2 rotation punch in the majors, but even without Lee, the Yankees have the majors’ sixth-best rotation ERA at 3.79. If they had traded for Lee, the Yankees would have had to deal Javier Vazquez or move Phil Hughes back to the bullpen in order to create a rotation opening for their latest ex-Indian Cy Young award winner. If New York has a pressing need, it is at DH. With the news that Nick Johnson suffered a setback in his rehab from wrist surgery, another bat would be nice. But, again, that would be more of a luxury than a necessity.

2. Rays. Their June swoon is behind them, but 14 of the Rays’ first 20 games after the break are against the Yankees, Tigers and Twins. Although Tampa Bay was rumored to be in the Lee sweepstakes and have a couple of struggling starting pitchers, it needs another bat to avoid another cold spell. The Rays’ DH spot has been a revolving door alls season (see: Pat Burrell and Hank Blalock, both of whom have been released), and center field also is ripe for an upgrade with B.J. Upton struggling. Although he would add another lefthanded bat to a lefty-heavy heart of the order, the Nationals’ Adam Dunn would fit nicely at DH.

3. Rangers. If it wasn’t already, Texas is now the clear favorite to win the AL West. The Rangers enter Friday night’s play with a 5 1/2-game lead over the Angels, and the pickup of Lee helps the Rangers as much as it hurts the Angels. Texas already had one of the majors’ best offenses, but despite improvement from its rotation, pitching remained a huge question mark. Team president Nolan Ryan made no secret of his desire to acquire a veteran workhorse with No. 1 starter ability. And Ryan’s Rangers just got that in Lee, who is a complete-game machine and is battle-tested in September and October. But one pitcher isn’t guaranteed to improve the Rangers’ rotation –- 19th in the majors with a 4.27 ERA — enough to pass the powerhouse Yankees and Rays. And the trade of Smoak creates a void at first base.

4. Red Sox. Though they were able to withstand them for a time, the injuries finally are catching up to Boston. The good news is that some of the banged-up players -– Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Victor Martinez –- should be ready to return shortly after the All-Star break. The bad news is that the Red Sox can’t afford to fall further behind in the AL East and wild card races. With Jacoby Ellsbury still out and Mike Cameron unable to play every day, Boston’s biggest void is in the outfield. And with the Phillies possibly dangling Jayson Werth, the Red Sox should get involved.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

Even more quickly than the Yankees went from the observation deck to the probable landing spot for Cliff Lee, the Rangers swooped in and claimed the ace as their own Friday afternoon.

To get Lee, a pending free agent, and reliever Mark Lowe, the Rangers had to part with a talented quartet of future talent. Seattle acquired first baseman Justin Smoak, pitcher Blake Beavan, reliever Josh Lueke and second baseman/outfielder Matt Lawson.

Cliff Lee will bolster a Texas rotation that is ranked toward the bottom of the league.
Cliff Lee will bolster a Texas rotation that is ranked toward the bottom of the league.

The addition of Lee improves the Rangers, but, ultimately, it doesn’t knock the Yankees off their perch atop the American League. The new balance of power in the AL:

1. Yankees. As disappointed as New York might be about being this close to acquiring Lee, the solace is that it didn’t need him. A reunited Lee-CC Sabathia duo would have been the best 1-2 rotation punch in the majors, but even without Lee, the Yankees have the majors’ sixth-best rotation ERA at 3.79. If they had traded for Lee, the Yankees would have had to deal Javier Vazquez or move Phil Hughes back to the bullpen in order to create a rotation opening for their latest ex-Indian Cy Young award winner. If New York has a pressing need, it is at DH. With the news that Nick Johnson suffered a setback in his rehab from wrist surgery, another bat would be nice. But, again, that would be more of a luxury than a necessity.

2. Rays. Their June swoon is behind them, but 14 of the Rays’ first 20 games after the break are against the Yankees, Tigers and Twins. Although Tampa Bay was rumored to be in the Lee sweepstakes and have a couple of struggling starting pitchers, it needs another bat to avoid another cold spell. The Rays’ DH spot has been a revolving door alls season (see: Pat Burrell and Hank Blalock, both of whom have been released), and center field also is ripe for an upgrade with B.J. Upton struggling. Although he would add another lefthanded bat to a lefty-heavy heart of the order, the Nationals’ Adam Dunn would fit nicely at DH.

3. Rangers. If it wasn’t already, Texas is now the clear favorite to win the AL West. The Rangers enter Friday night’s play with a 5 1/2-game lead over the Angels, and the pickup of Lee helps the Rangers as much as it hurts the Angels. Texas already had one of the majors’ best offenses, but despite improvement from its rotation, pitching remained a huge question mark. Team president Nolan Ryan made no secret of his desire to acquire a veteran workhorse with No. 1 starter ability. And Ryan’s Rangers just got that in Lee, who is a complete-game machine and is battle-tested in September and October. But one pitcher isn’t guaranteed to improve the Rangers’ rotation –- 19th in the majors with a 4.27 ERA — enough to pass the powerhouse Yankees and Rays. And the trade of Smoak creates a void at first base.

4. Red Sox. Though they were able to withstand them for a time, the injuries finally are catching up to Boston. The good news is that some of the banged-up players -– Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Victor Martinez –- should be ready to return shortly after the All-Star break. The bad news is that the Red Sox can’t afford to fall further behind in the AL East and wild card races. With Jacoby Ellsbury still out and Mike Cameron unable to play every day, Boston’s biggest void is in the outfield. And with the Phillies possibly dangling Jayson Werth, the Red Sox should get involved.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

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